School Committee passes distance learning plan


Oliver Davey, Staff Writer

A distance learning plan to make up for 3 of the 9 lost days due to weather proposed by Superintendent Bill Olsen and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kerry Clery was passed by the School Committee on Monday, March 26th, with a vote of 5 yes, 1 no, and 1 absent. Committee member, Arthur Benoit was absent, while committee member Megan Eckroth was the lone no vote.

This plan will entail three separate assignments that will be given by classes missed on March 9th, 13th, and 14th. This will make up for these days, therefore moving the current last day of school from Wednesday, June 27th to Monday, June 22nd. Seniors will not have to participate in these assignments.

The assignments will be assigned on April 13th, May 4th, and May 25th, according to Olsen. Students will have two weeks to complete the assignments. WA students should expect about 30 minutes per class per assignment of work.

Proposed by school committee member Alicia Mallon at the meeting, the committee will reconvene to discuss the plan after the first assignment has been collected. They will then decide whether or not to continue the program.

School committee member Gloria Miller also suggested moving the last assignment back one week, making it due on June 9th instead of June 16th, which was ultimately accepted and altered the plan. As finals for many students start on the 18th, she felt the assignments being due two days before may be detrimental to the students in terms of workload.

One of the main reasons Olsen supported starting this initiative was that he felt that the quality of school at the end of summer was not very high.

“Books are being put away, papers are being put away. Are there activities? Yes, but are they the same level of intensity?” Olsen said.

Clery, who Olsen credited with doing much of the research and development of this plan, also mentioned how assignments given now would be able to enhance content better than assignments given at the end of the school year.

“This is an opportunity to take what they [teachers] are already doing […] and expand that in some way, whereas we would not be able to say the same about content being delivered at the end of the school year,” Clery said.

Olsen decided to push distance learning instead of having classes on weekends or vacations. He mentioned the high absentee rate and low popularity several years ago when WPS made up snow days during April break.

Olsen and Clery also responded to complaints they had received about how teachers would have to work very little in terms of these assignments. They mentioned that teachers would have to develop the assignments, give clear instructions and feedback, and also communicate with various departments and parents about any modifications that need to be made.

They both also responded to inquiries about students having a lack of technology to complete assignments, mentioning the use of hard copies, along with using school technology and the public library.

In terms of Advanced Placement courses at WA, Principal Jim Antonelli mentioned that because of the rigid timing of the tests, even with the distance learning, it may get busy for the students taking these classes.

“The teachers have been struggling to keep that pace […] because the AP tests happen on a certain day and we have to meet those requirements up to that […] I suspect that April vacation will be a little more hectic than we had planned in the past,” Antonelli said.

Attendees at the meeting, as well as some committee members, expressed displeasure with the plan, with their main argument being that online assignments do not give kids remotely what they get in a regular school day. Eckroth, who voted against the plan, mentioned how many kids, especially younger students, get lessons from school that don’t change depending on the time of year.

“They’re learning about social and emotional growth, they’re learning about following a schedule, getting somewhere on time, understanding what the expectations are. And that happens on June 27th, it happens on March 14th, it happens on November 9th, so I don’t think it is as clear cut,” Eckroth said.

WA student representative junior Steven MacMaster responded to this by mentioning how getting more online assignments was a large part of growing up in WPS. By getting these assignments  younger, it will help students better perform with them as they get older, he said.